Phony Conversations

Glimpsing into Paresky Commons during a typical school day, one would see students enjoying a break from classes, bantering at lunch tables, and laughing with friends. But, upon a second glance, many students would appear phone-in-hand, heads tilted down as they send Snapchats to the person across from them while scrolling through myriads of pictures on Facebook and Instagram.

This summer, Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students and Residential Life, sent an email to parents describing an experience she encountered last year, in which a group of Seniors from the Class of 2016 lobbied her to consider banning cellphone usage on pathways and in Paresky. They told her that banning cellphones in these places would encourage greater interaction among members of the Andover community. Regardless of whether or not Elliott chooses to ban casual cellphone usage, students must reflect on their cellphone usage, and understand when it is or is not appropriate to use their devices.

Cellphone overuse at Paresky is not a new topic of discussion at Andover. Two years ago, phone baskets were distributed onto tables in Paresky with the hope that students would set their phones aside in the baskets during mealtimes. This was a good effort by the Student Council, but use of the baskets quickly subsided as students lost interest. Eventually, the baskets were removed.

Mealtimes at Andover are among some of the best times to converse, interact, and connect with friends and classmates on campus. Although I admit I am guilty of using my cellphone both in Paresky and on pathways, I recognize that this behavior is inappropriate and that much gets lost through online communication. Real laughter is much more fulfilling to me than a text that reads, “lol” or “haha.” Many people are drawn to Andover by the boarding school mantra, “You will make lifelong friends from around the world,” but this is difficult to accomplish if we spend our mealtimes staring at a screen instead of trying to build relationships with each other. It is not uncommon for students to feel that their peers, huddled over their phones, do not value them, or consider them worthy of their attention.

Since phone baskets proved ineffective in drawing attention away from phones at the dinner table, an alternative solution could be to turn phones on airplane mode when they are not being used, or to store them in a place where buzzes and dings are out of earshot.

We only spend at most four short years at Andover, and we may never again have a chance to be in an environment as lively and engaging as this one. I implore our community to realize that time spent on a phone at the dinner table is time spent missing invaluable conversations, laughs, and opportunities to create and sustain strong relationships.